The Luxury of Laughter: Using Humour to Add Brand Value

Somewhere in space floats a red Tesla driven by a dummy named “Starman.” His copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is in the glove box. The dashboard displays “Don’t Panic,” and the circuit board reads “Made on Earth by Humans.”

When SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in February, they pay loaded Elon Musk’s own car, so aliens would know the stuff of which humans are (or were) made. But the takeaway for today’s earthbound audience:

The future of the most aspirational things on our planet belongs to those who aren’t above having a little fun at their own expense.

Approachable is the New Aspirational

Beyond the heavy-handed humor of catchphrase ads, from Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” to Budweiser’s “Wassaaap!” – is a spectrum of smiles that draws people into even high-end brands – a true sign of the heightened value of humor today.

Luxury brands have always been reluctant to embrace humor. They were aspirational, not approachable. It was all gaunt models and conspicuous shows of monetary dominance – survival of the fittest is no laughing matter.

The message to brands now is not to be comedians, just lighten up in ways that feel authentic. Luxury’s become more approachable – in fact, the word itself sounds funny now – and so should you.

1. Awaken the Humor Within (Core Brand)

We laugh because it’s true. That means knowing what’s right for you. You’re not always going for heavy-handed belly busters; most brands are more lighthearted smiles and winks. But it starts deeper than a funny ad.

Kimpton Hotels pioneered boutique hospitality on strength of company culture, personal interaction, and quirky perks (early on, they gave you a goldfish pet at check-in). They spoof the aloof in recent video, with something that starts out looking like an Apple ad and ends up demonstrating a “Stay Human” promise – the company’s entire “Operating System” is built on lighthearted connection.

Halo Top took on AI with its human-centric Eat The Ice Cream Superbowl ads. This kind of “Everyone You Love Is Gone, There Is Only Ice Cream” humor only comes from an organization ready to say “and now for something completely different” to mass brands.

2. Go The Extra Smile (Brand Experience)

A culture that encourages your own brand of play shows up at every touch point, not just TV ads. In social, your customers help share that story.

The rise of April Fool’s Day prank is a fascinating development of the social media age. Did anyone believe high-end hipster eyewear brand Warby Parker was co-branding with Arby’s? Seems unlikely. But “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” is a brand value. The 4/1 brand prank has become a brand rite of spring.

Moon Pie’s Twitter may remind you of childhood giggles. But Gucci’s #TFWGucci memes make you rethink a venerable luxury fashion house. “There is now a voracious appetite for our narrative,” Robert Triefus, EVP Brand and Consumer Engagement deadpans on Instagram.

Upscale retailer Bonobos named itself after a chimpanzee, offers “ninja” service, and built an affluent following promising to “End Khaki Diaper Butt.” All things Walmart coveted when it bought the brand recently.

3. Pursue Modest Hilarity (Brand Expression)

Take the product seriously. Yourself, not so much. Today’s audience will laugh at you if you don’t pre-emptively poke fun and laugh with them first.

Patek Phillippe’s “Generations” ads used to sell $20,000 watches with the promise “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Today, Tiffany makes $9,000 balls of yarn. Their “everyday objects” line pokes fun at how excessive luxury items can be, while making it all a bit of an inside joke.

BMW has long successfully positioned its cars as “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Against that established hyperbole, Audi UK used pies in the face to demonstrate their “clown proof” cars.

Fashion brand Diesel created a knockoff brand Deisel, complete with fake stores. If you’re looking for the epitome of what luxury brands historically never laughed about, knockoffs would be it.

Laugh or Die

Funny ads often fare well. Numerous studies have shown consumers are more likely to remember and share funny content.

But now humor’s as much a survival tool for social animals as a kneejerk response to wit. It plays a role in brand survival akin to human survival:

  • Don’t Panic. Humor has a calming influence. Faced with uncertain times, it helps you think clearly and act confidently.
  • Made on Earth by Humans. Humor humanizes brands, puts people at ease, makes you approachable. It disarms and invites.

So when Elon Musk recently began poaching staff from The Onion for his next venture, perhaps he signaled that the humanity in humor will be an increasingly critical part of building brand value.

Josh Kelly

Josh Kelly

Managing Partner and Chief Strategist at FINE
Josh is the San Francisco-based Managing Partner and Chief Strategist at FINE. For the past 12 years, he’s worked on brand strategy, content marketing, and digital initiatives for leading brands in Silicon Valley, Napa Valley, and other valleys (and sometimes even higher altitude locations). He’s worked with clients like Anchor Brewing, Kimpton Hotels, Symantec, Cloudera, Ste Michelle Wine Estates, and many more. His prior experience includes roles at Visa and DDB Needham, and teaching experience with the University of California.
Josh Kelly

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